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Inspected for Safety

20 minutes to better boating

Coast Guard Auxiliary inspector Bruce Becker checks the indicator mechanism on an inflatable life jacket.

I take my boating safety seriously. For the past 20 years, I have signed up for Coast Guard Auxiliary safety inspection. My spring ritual assures I will be safe, legal and prepared should the Coast Guard or Natural Resources Police choose to stop me for a random on-water inspection.
    Every year I pass the formal inspection, but the inspector always makes multiple recommendations for improving my safety. This year I wanted to pass with no recommendations.
    I was prepared; last year I had made careful notes, so now the flame arrester was cleaned, the battery terminals were covered and I had a dewatering device on board. I gave everything else a careful going over to be sure I was ready.
    For the third straight year, Bruce Becker of the Joppa Flotilla would be doing my inspection. We were getting to be old friends.
    My plan was for him to give me the look-over, smile and pass me with flying colors. Good plan, but I should have chosen a less experienced inspector. After doing Coast Guard Auxiliary inspections for almost 25 years, Becker doesn’t let much get by him.
    “I like boating, I like learning and I like helping people,” explains Becker of why he volunteers in the cause of safety.
    My first setback came as I was showing my life jackets, proudly explaining that when out on the Bay I always wore my inflatable. Swell, Becker agreed. But how recently had I checked the mechanism to assure it was showing green? I didn’t know there was an indicator on the mechanism or how to check it; he patiently showed me.
    Next, my fire extinguisher. There is no official expiration date on extinguishers; so as long as the dial shows green, they are legal. But the date of manufacture is stamped on the bottom, and Coast Guard experience is that after 12 years the unit can lose its effectiveness. Mine was 14 years old. Recommendation number two: Buy a new fire extinguisher.
    Then Becker ran his finger over the flame arrester; it came out black. That was a surprise. A dirty flame arrester was one of last year’s findings, and I had cleaned it only two weeks before inspection. Incorrectly, it turns out. The correct method is with soap and water. The other possibility was an engine burning too rich and wasting $3.85 a gallon gasoline.
    Twenty minutes later, I was smarter and safer after my inspection.
    Safety inspections are a service of the Coast Guard Auxiliary. They are free, voluntary and levy no penalty if you fail. So other than the 20 minutes for the visit, you have little to invest and no risk, only the chance to make your boat safer. Find local inspection options at http://cgaux.org/vsc. Then phone or email to set a time to meet at your boat.